Sir Rodney Walker, who chairs the company formed by UK Sport to oversee the Grand Départ of this year’s Tour de France, says that anyone hoping to watch the peloton tackle Yorkshire’s rugged terrain will need to ensure they get to their chosen vantage point at least a day early.
The 71-year-old Yorkshireman, who has headed several national sporting governing bodies, was last year appointed chairman of TdFHUB 2014 Ltd, which is tasked with co-ordinating the two stages of the race being held in his native county in July, as well as Stage 3 from Cambridge to London.
Speaking to the Independent about the expected crowds of 1 million-plus people for each of those three stages, he pointed out that roads would be impassable for as much as 10 miles from the route of the race, meaning it was essential that people hoping to watch it plan ahead.
Clearly, that’s less of an issue for people planning to watch the race in London or, before the race arrives there, other cities well served by transport links such as Leeds, York, Sheffield and Cambridge although trains are expected to be busy.
Elsewhere, though, those restrictions could cause problems on all three stages, and it seems certain that anyone wanting to watch the world’s top riders as they tackle some of Yorkshire’s iconic climbs will need to claim their spot early.
There will be a restriction of 20,000 people at Buttertubs Pass on Stage 1 from Leeds to Harrogate, and while limits on numbers are yet to be decided for Holme Moss on Stage 2 from York to Sheffield, it is anticipated to draw big crowds.
“One of the things we have already begun to talk about but we will ratchet up significantly in the next eight to nine weeks, is to tell people: do not expect to wake up on a nice sunny day in early July and say ‘shall we go and watch…’, because it won’t happen,” said Sir Rodney.
“Unless you have made up your mind and got within the vicinity at least a day before… you won’t get to see it. That’s why there are so many campsites opening up along the route.”
TDF Hub 2014 Ltd, which published its second Readiness Report last month, is tasked with overseeing the spending of the £10 million the government has contributed towards the total £27 million cost of hosting the race.
Sir Rodney’s background as a sports administrator made him a natural candidate for a role that has involved co-ordinating activities between six separate police forces and 17 local authorities.
While the government has made it clear that no extra money beyond that initial £10 million will be provided, he insists that the event will deliver value for money.
“I would defy anyone to find another sporting event that is free – you can’t charge, you are not allowed to have any sponsors because the ASO have all the sponsors,” he said.
“We might have to manage anything up to four and five million spectators and you are going to get that for £27m. I would defy you to find me anything that is comparable.”
He is confident that the Grand Départ will go well, saying: “If you were to ask me the question of how do I feel with 80 days to go I would say I feel to be in control of what we know and what we can control.
“But I’m not stupid enough not to realise there will be things arise that we don’t yet know about that we will have to deal with.
“The weather is one. If it is like it was in 2012 [when Britain endured a pre-Olympic deluge] we will be doing detours because there were floods on the road. You just don’t know. But we are prepared,” he concluded.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.